John Stott: embarrassed by a New Year honour

Posted in Blog, Christianity

John Stott (1921 -2011) studied modern languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated with double first-class honours in French and Theology. He was ordained deacon in 1945, became curate at All Souls Church, Langham Place, London (1945-1950), then rector (1950-1975). He wrote over 50 books which have been translated into 67 languages and conducted missions in universities and colleges throughout the world. He was honorary chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II for over thirty years and received the rare distinction of being appointed an Extra Chaplain in 1991.

But what did John Stott have in common with George W. Bush, Gordon Brown, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Clint Eastwood, Rupert Murdoch, the Dalai Lama, Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela and Oprah Winfrey? The answer is that on 10 April 2005 they were all named by Time magazine among the 100 most influential people in the world – people who shape our world.

To construct the list, the editor of Time magazine sought proposals from all his correspondents in the USA and overseas, and spoke to many experts outside the magazine for advice in their fields. Having made the selection, the magazine asked an appropriate person to make the case for the choice. In John’s case they approached Billy Graham who said, ‘I can’t think of anyone who has been more effective in introducing so many people to a biblical world view. He represents a touchstone of authentic biblical scholarship that, in my opinion, has scarcely been paralleled since the days of the 16th-century European Reformers.’

The wisdom of Time magazine’s selection should not be lightly dismissed since Gordon Brown went on to become British Prime Minister, Barack Obama was elected US President and Cardinal Ratzinger was chosen as Pope!

John had no idea that the magazine was going to publish the list. When he read the issue he ‘literally burst out laughing’ because he thought it ‘utterly absurd’. He told Brian Draper of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity that ‘there must be hundreds of thousands of people whose influence is greater than mine’. Others felt that Time magazine was closer to the truth than John. And indeed a few months later the British Establishment awarded John a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the New Year Honours List, for ‘services to Christian scholarship and the Christian world’. John was pleased with the citation but embarrassed by the continuing reference to the British Empire which, as he reminded his friends, ‘long ago ceased to exist’!